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ISF Total Force Mobilization Update November 2010


Link to large sized map.


There are all sorts of people speculating as to what the Iraqi Security Force should or should not do and what the ISF defense concept should be.  The concepts range from conventional forward defense to people who are confusing delaying tactics for defense.  Most are unaffordable.  Many are unsuitable due to Iraq’s limited strategic depth.  Basrah is in artillery range with a 4 mile advance into Iraq.  Baghdad is less than 3 hours drive for a tank division coming from the Iranian border unopposed.  Iranian tanks would not even need to refuel on the way if unopposed.


Only in the Anbar, Najaf, and Muthanna border areas opposite Jordan and Saudi does Iraq have the strategic depth necessary for a mobile defense concept.  Everywhere else, forward defense is the only real option.  That major detail has not stopped some amateur proposals from talking using a mobile defense concept supported by aircraft.  However, such a defense requires a minimum of 100 kilometers depth of maneuvering room, minimized lines of communication in that zone, and an unaffordable large air force.


This is why Saudi Arabia is not developed for 100-150km depth along most of its borders.  That is the military combat zone with its limited roads to channelize an enemy’s advance.  Saudi’s concept of operations is to delay an invader in that zone with air strikes and small well armed blocking forces until an ally [US] arrives in strength to intervene.  The exception to this rule is the Kuwait border which was developed for the oil – which is why invading Kuwait is a tripwire for US intervention into Saudi.  Iraq does not have this defensive depth.


Saudi did not invent this concept of operations and it has several major flaws.  The biggest flaw is it is not a stand-alone defense – it is a delaying tactic - it requires intervention by an outside force.   This delaying tactic did not work so well on the eastern front for the Wehrmacht in 1943-45 when the miracle split in the allies never happened.  The German’s employed this same concept and they had considerably more room to work with on the eastern front.  All it did was delay the fall while they prayed for a miracle that never happened.  Iraq does not have any mutual defense treaties to guarantee the miracle intervention.


If Iraq were to employ such an operational concept on any border except the Saudi/Jordanian border – E.G. Iran: It would hand every major city in Iraq to Iran in less than 2 weeks of combat operations.  Too many strategic cities and oil facilities are just too close to the border.  Iraq also is too built up in those regions with a road network that facilitates multiple axis of attack.  Iraq does not have the strategic depth necessary to employ that set of mobile defensive tactics.  It could be argued that Iraq needs to be pre-emptive and attack Iran in such a situation – so as to gain the strategic depth needed but, that did not work out so well for Saddam.


Fortunately for Iraq, the Iraq Security Forces understand that they are going to have a hard time buying enough fighter aircraft and SAMs for their air defense.  The decision-makers understand that light COIN aircraft are not cost effective if the cost is the loss of the country – they need the advanced fighters first and cannot afford wasting the budget on large numbers of single role aircraft.  The Iraqi Air Force in 2020 will be lucky to have enough capable combat aircraft to provide air defense given their budget.  The Iraqi Air Force will not be wasting money on large numbers of aircraft that can be easily shot down by any fighter built since WWII – the money will be going to air defense.  The Iraqi Defense concept is forward defense and the ground forces are not expecting much air support. 


As depicted on the map, the forward defense concept planned by the Iraqi Security Forces utilizes the Total Mobilization Concept.  The DBE provides the forward screen with a mix of Iraqi Army, Iraqi Federal Police, and Kurdish Regional Guards providing the primary infantry line.  The Iraqi Army plans to add significant armor to its force so that it’s mechanized and armor divisions can operate as corps/army reserve to react to any enemy breakthrough.  Supporting those heavy divisions will be the limited Army Aviation working with the Iraqi Special Operations Force brigades and the MoI’s Emergency Response Force Brigades as part of the quick reaction forces.    However, all of these forces are not ready for external defense.  They would be only a speed-bump to the Iranian forces at this point.  To put it into perspective, the 3-phase Iraqi Ministry of Defense plan is: 


·         Tactical Independence (2006-2010) – Internal security which is effectively done. 


·         Operational Independence (2011-2015) – unlikely to meet the schedule.  IA needs to be out of internal security operations by then and it is unlikely that the FP will be ready to take over in time.  Also, the FP needs to train and equip for its secondary role as infantry in external defense.


·         Strategic Independence (2016-2020) – unlikely to meet the schedule.  This requires a functional and credible air defense, at least 6 heavy IA divisions, and the FP trained/equipped for its secondary role of external security. 


Each of the services are at differing points in the development time-line, almost none of them are really on schedule. 


Iraqi Army


The Iraqi Army is in early Phase 2 with the armor and artillery programs behind schedule.  Originally, the artillery program was to start in 2007 but, the addition of 4 divisions for internal security diverted resources from upgrading the existing divisions.  The Iraqi Army is just starting to re-equip and train the 9th Armored Division for that role, and this is the only division in the Iraqi army with any howitzers.


The IA has only 14 of 20 planned IA Divisions; 4 more appear to be forming – 16th, 18th, President, and Council.  Only 1 armored division exists and that is in M1A1/M113/BTR4 conversion training.


The 20 IA divisions are planned to be 4 Armored, 6 Mechanized Infantry, 6 [truck-mounted] Motorized Infantry, 2 Mountain, and 2 Security Divisions.  All except 1 division is missing their howitzers and some of their other necessary support components.  The planned armor and mechanized upgrades will not be completed by 2020.  Too much of the budget is needed for air defense to upgrade more than 6-8 divisions to mech/armor.


Iraqi Air Force


The Iraqi Air Force is in late-Phase 1 and will not be starting Phase 2 until it starts to field an air defense with teeth.


The separation of the helicopter assets to the Army Air Corps should facilitate re-focusing the Air Force on its primary air defense mission but, the price and delivery times make it unlikely that a credible air defense can be fielded by 2020.  The first fighters are not expected to start to deliver until 2014 at earliest.  Budget issues may delay that further.  A minimum of 5 fighter squadrons are necessary for Iraqi air defense – preferably 8-10.  Given Delivery and training time, the minimum needed 5 squadrons could be operational by 2020 – barring any further delays.  This also requires further development of the support structure.


To date, no SAM-based air defense has been ordered.  The earliest SAMs could be added is 2013-2014 and sufficient numbers/training/support would push their effective operational date to 2017-2020.


Iraqi Navy and Marines


The Iraqi Navy and Marines are in Phase 2 but, that in more a factor of their limited objectives.  The Marines still need to expand to a Division-sized force to cover the expanding Al Faw ports and the Navy needs missile boats and coastal defense missiles.  The existing force is gun armed.


Iraqi Special Operations Force/Emergency Response Force


ISOF is in Phase 2 but, the expansion to 5 brigades is slow and facing delays.  The ERF is in Phase 1 and facing similar problems to ISOF.  Screening, training and expanding by taking in the best 50 percent of the province SWAT forces is not a fast program.


The Iraqi Special Operations Force and the Emergency Response Force are a Division-equivalent in size but, mostly dispersed in battalion-sized detachments.  Both forces are expanding slowly to a probably planned 5 ISOF and 14-15 ERF Brigades.  This will be a slow expansion, probably not complete until 2018-2020.  In wartime these forces would be assigned to corps or army headquarters as airmobile quick reaction forces and reconnaissance forces.


Federal Police


The Federal Police is in early to mid-Phase 1.  The FP is in the process of forming its 5th and 6th Divisions out of the Mid-Euphrates emergency police and part of the 30,000 Kurdish Zerevani that are transferring to the Iraqi MoI.  This is less than half of the 14-16 planned Federal Police Divisions being built by retraining/re-equipping the existing provincial emergency police.  Until the FP finishes this “Nationalization” program, they will not be training or equipping for their secondary external security role [Phase 2].


4 of 14-16 planned FP Divisions exist at this time with 2 more forming.  These ~15 Divisions are planned to be 14-15 [truck] Motorized Infantry and 1 Security Division.  These new Divisions are being formed by transferring, retraining, and re-equipping existing Province Paramilitary forces.  This will probably not be done until after 2015, after which training on their secondary external defense role will commence.


Department of Border Enforcement


The DBE is also in Phase 1.  They are short 5 brigades in strength and the DBE has few mobile units – they are based on fixed border fortifications.  This makes its function as a forward screen a very short-lived one in event of an attack.  They are also missing field artillery and mortars.  The 5 existing under strength DBE Divisions are mostly static forces tied to their border “forts”.   This is the only force planned to be used in external defense with a “Maginot Line” mentality.


Ministry of Interior Aviation


Ministry of Interior Aviation is in Phase 0.  They are ordering their first aircraft.


Oil Police Directorate


OPD is in early Phase 1.  OPD is only at 1/3rd strength and slow training.  However, the Italian Carabinieri is starting a training program for the Oil Police similar to the program for the Federal Police – this could make those 4 forming security divisions much more useful in the future.  At this point the OPD is 4 badly under strength Oil Police Divisions.  For now, these are static forces; however, the Carabinieri training could convert them into a more capable mobile force.  Due to the importance of guarding the oil infrastructure – these forces are unlikely to be used in external security.  They will be rear-area security releasing the IA from securing the all-important oil infrastructure.


Facilities Protection Service


The Facilities Protection Force is at Phase 0.5 – only 10 percent has transitioned to the IP pay scale and they probably will never be more than “rent-a-cops” at best.  The 3 forming Facilities Police Divisions are low capability static security and unlikely to be used in external security.


Kurdish Regional Guards


The Kurdish Regional Guards are Phase 2 but, only recently started Iraqi Army training.  The delay in merging the Peshmerga forces from 2 de facto political militias into 1 security force has hurt training.  In addition to the 2 IA, 2 FP, and 1 DBE Division being manned or to be manned by the Peshmerga, there are 21 Regional Guards Brigades are being organized on standard IA structure.  The 21 forming Regional Guards Brigades are being formed by combining PUK and KDP smaller sized “brigades” and forming more conventionally standard sized brigades.  KRG forces are restricted to Kurdish areas unless the Kurdish Regional Government agrees to their deployment.  Total forces in the Kurdish Region are 2 corps equivalents – 1 army.


The ISF is developing but, budget issues and politics has delayed many key components.  It is unlikely to meet the planned schedules for 2015 and 2020.  Air Defense is still the major issue and the price-tag associated with air defense will impact any plans for other purchases.  Without the essential air defense, everything else is just targets…

DJ Elliott